Today, January 14th, 2013, marks one month since the unthinkable happened: the murder of twenty-six, including twenty young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In Jewish tradition, one month marks the conclusion of the stage of mourning known as Sheloshim, literally meaning thirty, referring to the thirty days of the month. Unlike the initial week of Shiva, Sheloshim is the beginning of a mourner’s return to normal social and professional duties while still maintaining observance of restrictions, prohibitions, and traditional mourning practices. Sheloshim is meant to slowly ease the mourner back into a life of normalcy. For most relatives, Sheloshim ends the traditional formal mourning period. Yet, we all recognize that it is impossible for things to “get back to normal” after thirty days. In fact, those who have grieved and mourned the loss of a loved one understand and accept that life will never again be “normal.” If anything, the end of Sheloshim prepares the mourner for a changed and distinctly different reality.
How then are we as a nation supposed to feel one month after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Some of us have moved on with our lives. Some of us have become obsessed with the next headline of the day. However, I am still struggling to accept this new reality, a reality in which there are no guarantees, in which there are no “safe spaces,” not movie theaters, not houses of worship, not shopping malls, and not elementary schools. While I struggle to accept this reality, I pray that for the sake of future generations, we can end gun violence.
When we recite the traditional words of the El Maleh Rachamim, the Memorial Prayer, we say Ba’avur sh’nadvu Tzedakah b’ad hazkarat nishmato, may we give charity in remembrance of the soul of our departed loved one. However, tzedakah, which we typically define as charity, really means ‘justice.’ Thus, what we really pray for when we recite these words is “may we do justice in remembrance of the soul of our departed loved ones.” I do not know if I will ever truly be ready to accept this reality. I do not know how I will explain this world full of inexplicable acts of violence to my daughter when she is old enough to comprehend the difference between good and evil. Yet, I do know that as we try to comprehend this reality, we must do justice and make real changes, so that these twenty innocent children’s memories remain a blessing.
Tomorrow, Tuesday January 15th, Vice President Biden will offer recommendations from the Gun Control Task Force that he led to the President of the United States. We can assume that the recommendations he offers will set potential policy in motion. It is no surprise that our country is divided on many issues. After all, Congress has been in a stalemate for months. According to CNN, over 85% of the country support some gun control reform while a the same time, the New York Times reports that the sale of guns and ammunition has spiked over recent weeks in anticipation of potential policy changes. Some among us believe that we must defend the Second Amendment of the Constitution at all costs while others believe that we should ban all guns from private ownership. As one side goes farther in one direction it seems the other side goes farther in the other direction, leaving all parties far from a middle ground in which we can all agree on. True justice, the tzedakah that we pray for, involves our country, its citizens, politicians, and special interest groups putting their own agendas aside for the betterment of all.
My hope and prayer is that with true justice, by making our voices heard and by taking action, by demanding a plan, we can end gun violence. Maybe then, I will never have to explain to my daughter about evil and violence for together, we can work to rid this country of such violence. Our Sheloshim may be over, but our mourning, our grief, our tears, and our heartache remain. Let us change our ways so that we can learn to heal and do not have to mourn another innocent life murdered in cold blood. Psalm 30 teaches us “at night we may cry ourselves to sleep, but joy comes in the morning.” I, like so many, still cry for the twenty-six innocent lives murdered in Newtownm Connecticut one month ago. I await that new day, that morning in which we can celebrate with laughter instead of mourn with tears. I pray that through our own action, that new day will come soon.
May the memories of all those innocent victims taken from the world far too soon forever be for a blessing. Amen.
-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky